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Council looks for answers to South Congress parking puzzle

Wednesday, March 9, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

Residents of the Bouldin Creek neighborhood and other residential areas around South Congress Avenue may soon get some relief for their parking woes. At yesterday’s City Council work session, Council members indicated that they would approve an ordinance tomorrow directing the city manager to explore parking options for residential neighborhoods adjacent to the popular shopping and entertainment district.


Options proposed in the resolution, sponsored by Council Members Chris Riley and Bill Spelman, include the creation of a Parking Benefits District, Residential Permit Parking districts, and the application of Residential Permit Parking within Vertical Mixed Use districts.


In a Parking Benefit District, revenue generated from parking meters goes to maintaining the local streetscape. Provisions for Vertical Mixed Use districts, which several of the neighborhoods include, allow for an expedited review process for Residential Permit Parking, which, according to Riley, “can result in pretty extensive RPP throughout the area on both sides of the street.”


“Parking has become a real issue both for people attending events or going to shops and businesses along South Congress,” said Riley. “It’s also an issue for people living in the neighborhoods around South Congress because they’ve been getting more and more spillover traffic from along the South Congress corridor.


Through this resolution, the authors are seeking to find a balance between the needs of the businesses along the corridor and the residents in the neighborhood, he said.


The resolution would also direct the city manager to work with “residents, business owners, and other stakeholders to develop short and long-term recommendations” to address the parking problems facing the South Congress area.


Spelman suggested that since the stakeholder process would actually include not just residents and business owners but also city engineering staff, acting, he said, “on behalf of drivers and users citywide,” it might be a good idea to hire a non-city mediator to monitor the process.


“My concern is that if the city is perceived as a party to that process then any city-managed mediation process with the city as a party would be perceived by somebody as being potentially biased,” Spelman said.


But neither Mayor Lee Leffingwell nor City Manager Marc Ott shared Spelman’s concern. Leffingwell said that during his time on the Council he has worked with several “trained and qualified city mediators.”  Ott, meanwhile, said, “I guess my reaction is that I think that city staff is –- with all respect to your perspective – is capable of carrying out such a process. I obviously can’t account for public reaction … but I think that (Transportation Department Director Rob) Spillar and others within our transportation and infrastructure service group are capable of accomplishing that.”


Spelman said he had no doubts about the abilities and talents of city staff.


At the end of the discussion, Leffingwell applauded Riley’s and Spelman’s efforts, saying, “This has been a longstanding issue, a longstanding problem, and it’s very difficult to find ways to address the concerns of everybody.”


If Council approves the resolution at tomorrow’s meeting, Ott and city staff will report back with their findings within 90 days. If the work of the stakeholder group proves successful, Riley said, it could serve as a template for other high-traffic areas in the city.

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